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As a manager, are you certain that you are better than your people?

This may sound like an unnecessary question; why do you need a ranking within your organisation of who is better than who?

The answer is simple, you don’t. What you do need is the awareness that everyone has their own skillset and the knowledge that you require to get things done. A multidisciplinary team. Or (to be frank) everyone is dumb, just in a different area.

Now back to the manager, or maybe even to you as a manager, and how much trust you really have in your people. Are you surrounded by a group who know exactly what they need to do and how to approach it? In many organisations, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. The team can self-organise, and once their goal is clear, it is up to them. The manager is mainly “coach” and there to enable the team. 

Managing during a crisis

All well and good; until things get complicated. For example when it looks like targets won’t be met, or maybe important stakeholders, such as clients, regulators or management teams become dissatisfied. These are the times when most managers can’t resist stepping in to snatch up the reins. They start delegating tasks: “what has to be done? by whom? when? and how?”. They insist on being asked for permission to take any subsequent steps. Why? It all comes down to the fact that they don’t trust that others can do things better than themselves.

Thankfully there are companies where this trust does exist. A good example of which was seen over the last few years on the football pitch of the Dutch national team, under the management of Ronald Koeman. In order to win their group in the Nations League, The Netherlands needed to draw against Germany. At the end of the first half it was 2-0 to Germany, who were playing well. The Netherlands, on the other hand, weren’t really getting anywhere. The second half continued in the same way; Germany attacked, The Netherlands faltered. Important stakeholders (fans, commentator) express their concern. Maybe even the team and management do too, because it looks like their target won’t be met.

For a moment, let’s just imagine..
Koeman is the type of manager we described above. When things aren’t going to plan, he feels the need to take the reigns. He says to his players ‘from now on I will tell you exactly what to do, who is going to do it and when and how it will be done.’ As a result, the team’s attacker, Memphis, has to consult Koeman and ask permission for his next move each time he gets the ball. Before he can take any action, defender, Virgil van Dijk has to ask “do I pass this ball, send it wide or return it to the keeper?.” 

You can imagine how much disruption this would cause to the game. It’s pretty obvious that The Netherlands won’t get very far under this managerial style. In fact, it even gives Germany an opportunity: They take advantage of the delays, continue to steal the ball, and set up attack after attack. The Netherlands goal is definitely being found, by Germany. Whereas their actual goal is getting further and further out of their reach.

Back to reality
That is not what happened at all! Because Koeman possesses an important characteristic, which is indispensable in these make or break situations: He is able to wholeheartedly trust in his team. He knows one thing for sure; every player on the field can play better football than he can.

” He does not take over, he remains a coach and refrains from giving orders or demanding he give permission. “

He trusts, ensures the goal to be achieved remains clear, and teaches the team that they are self-organising and multidisciplinary. The goal remains the same, but the path which they take to achieve it can always change. That’s why he (actually assistant coach Lodeweges) is known for his famous little ‘note’: indications to the team that the goal is still feasible and the skills of Virgil van Dijk can be used in an alternative way to achieve the same goal. Not by demanding the specific way Van Dijk should play, but by pointing out his attacking capabilities, even though he’s actually a defender.

Reaching the goal as a team

In the second half, The Netherlands draw 2-2 and achieve their goal. Happy team, happy management, happy fans. Of course, it could have all turned out very differently and that happens often enough. But no matter the outcome, the approach that Koeman and his team took together was the right one.

This article was previously published on, written by:

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